Ergonomics and Human Factors

Personal Protective Equipment

What is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?

PPE covers very many items – ranging from fall-arrest harnesses to rugby gum-shields. Perhaps the most common items used at work are safety boots, hi-vis clothing, other protective clothing (e.g. chemical protective clothing and gloves), respiratory protective equipment (RPE), and hearing defenders.

Wearing PPE can:

  • create additional physical strains on the wearer (including heat strain);
  • impair a wearer’s ability to carry out their work;
  • create significant levels of discomfort.

Any of these can discourage wearers from using PPE correctly, therefore placing them at risk of injury, ill-health or, under extreme circumstances, death. Good ergonomic design can help to minimise these barriers and can therefore help to ensure safe and healthy working conditions through the correct use of PPE.

What can we do for you?

Any item of PPE imposes a barrier between the wearer/user and the working environment. From our research and consultancy experience we can:

  • Help manufacturers develop more acceptable PPE;
    • Assist employers in selecting PPE which, as well as being technically appropriate is as wearable and acceptable as possible.
    • Assist employees in ensuring PPE provided is as fit for purpose as possible – not just technically correct (which is vital)

What have we done before?

The work of the IOM in the ergonomics of PPE has ranged from fundamental research into issues such as respiratory resistance and the thermal impact of protective clothing, to the application of ergonomics principles to the design, evaluation and selection of PPE, including helping to develop standards.

In their work, IOM ergonomists have helped to promote the requirement for PPE manufacturers to consider ergonomics issues in designing PPE and to encourage employers also to consider ergonomics issues in evaluating or selecting PPE. As a result, many thousands of workers throughout the UK and Europe benefit from PPE which is less intrusive, more comfortable and better fitting. Please see the recent HSE report on Suitability of Respiratory Protective Equipment

For example, the IOM assisted London Fire Brigade in carrying out ergonomic evaluations of new fire kit, thus helping to ensure that the capital’s 5,000 firefighters were equipped with ergonomically the best fire kit on offer.


If you have an enquiry about our ergonomics and human factors services please send us an email at ergonomics.humanfactors@iom-world.org

Alternatively telephone Dr Joanne Crawford on 0131 449 8037